Friday, September 25, 2009

Finding Hope

Recently I was looking for books on hymns at, hoping to find some of books suggested by The Hymn Society of America available cheaper from a used bookseller. (Sorry, HSA — if I have to pay new prices I’ll buy it from you, but money is tight right now.)

Browsing for these books produced some interesting ads from Christian booksellers and other peddlers of hymn books. The most interesting find was an online database from Hope Publishing (est. 1892), entitled “Hope Hymnody Online”.

Hope is pretty clear about what they’re doing and why. To enter the site, it says
In order to use the Hope Publishing Company online hymnody website you must reside in the United States or Canada. Hope Publishing Company owns or administers the contents in these territories. You may download one copy of any selection for your own personal use. To make any further copies you must get permission from Hope Publishing Company or belong to and report the copying activity to CCLI, LicenSing or By selecting "I Agree" you are verifying that you reside in the U.S. or Canada and will only legally use the contents accessible on the site.
To download a PDF, it similarly says:
You have selected to download a copy of the hymn. You have permission to print one copy for your personal use. To make any further copies (for your church congregation, church bulletin, an overhead slide or computerized projection,etc...) you must get permission from Hope Publishing Company or belong to and report the copying activity to CCLI, LicenSing or
In other words, they want you to sample their content and then recommend it for your church to sing (which will generate revenues).

What’s in the database is not all that exciting: hymn texts, their authors and the names of possible tunes to use with them. No authoring dates (they are obscured by a 20th century copyright date), no history, no music. It’s also skewed towards their post-1960 collection, although it does list older Christmas hymns. (PDFs seem available only for the recent ones).

One contemporary composer that I recognized was Carl P. Daw, Jr., an Episcopal priest who served on the Hymnal 1982 committee and has a number of hymns there. (He’s also currently executive director of the Hymn Society.)

The choice of search options are pretty interesting, however: title, tune name, author, composer, meter. There is a list of themes such as Advent, Christmas, Easter, Lord’s Supper and a few dozen more.

What seemed unique was the option to search (even in this limited pool) by scriptural reference. For example, a search for John 14:6 matches 30 hymns, including this one by Christopher Idle
God the I AM who does not change
brings mercies ever new;
no time nor space exceeds the range
of One whose grace this world finds strange-
yet we have found it true.

So Jesus Christ, from yesterday
through all todays the same,
the same for evermore, the Way,
the Truth by whom alone we pray,
the Life, the sovereign Name:
While the content (the product) is little too contemporary for my taste, it certainly will be of use to others. It also offers a model of how traditional Christian hymnody could be presented by a university or non-profit research group.

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